Getting Started with cPanel

cPanel is a very nice way of managing your domain and hosting account with Black Chicken Host. While it may look like there are a lot of options at first, everything is pretty well-organized.

cPanel has a built-in help feature, as well - on any page where you're not certain what to do, you can always click on the "Help?" icon in the top right corner for assistance on what's on the page in question. There are even video tutorials on each page!

On the main cPanel page, everything is organized into sections: Preferences, Mail, Files, Logs, Security, Domains, Databases, Software/Services, and Advanced. You may drag and drop these sections into any order you like. For example, if you need to use the Domains area quite a bit, you might want to drag that to the top of the screen for convenience.

You may also change the appearance of cPanel in several ways. At the top left, you should see "Switch Theme" and a drop-down menu. While we find the "x3" theme to be the easiest to get along with, you might prefer another and are absolutely welcome to change it anytime. Within a given theme, there may also be one or more color/skin choices available - you can find those under Preferences -> Change Style. I like Crimson Smoke, personally!

If you can't find what you're looking for, there is a "Find" text box near the top left, where you can search for a word, words or partial word, and cPanel will only show you the matching options. For example, if you were to type "mail" into the find box, cPanel will present you with six options: "Update Contact Info" (because there is an email address in there,) Email Accounts, Mailing Lists, Email Delivery Route, Import Addresses/Forwarders, and Email Authentication. To clear your search, you can erase the text or simply click the "X" to the right of the find box and all of the icons will come back.

cPanel keeps track of the areas you use most often, and you'll find those listed as shortcuts under the Frequently Accessed Areas to the left, under the find box.

Under the Frequently Acceessed Areas list, you'll see Stats, with basic stats listed below. If you click on the Stats header, more information will appear, which you may find helpful, including:

Your primary domain
The IP from which the account was last accessed 
How much disk space your account is using (only calculated every 4 hours, may be slightly inaccurate until the next calculation)
How much bandwidth you have used for the month
How many email accounts you have, and how many you are allowed
How many subdomains you have added
How many parked domains you have added
How many addon domains you have added
How many FTP accounts you have, and how many you are allowed
How many SQL databases you have, and how many you are allowed
How many mailing lists you have, and how many you are allowed
How much disk space your MySQL databases are using
What version and theme of cPanel you are using
What version of Apache, PHP, MySQL and Perl the server is running

And more - Whew! If you don't care about any of that, feel free to ignore it. To collapse the view down to the more compact version, just click "collapse stats" at the bottom.
You can expand and collapse all of the various sections to get them out of your way.
 
Let's just hit the most basic features for now.
 
Email:
 
To set up email accounts, go to Mail -> Email Accounts. On this page, you'll see any existing email accounts. If you're just getting started, only one will appear - the default account, which is your cPanel username. Add new email accounts at the top by typing the email username you want, and verifying the domain in the drop-down menu is correct (drop-down menu will only have one domain if you have not added others.)
 
Let's say we want to give our friend Severin T. Walrus an email account. He wants his email address to be "sev@severin.com" and he has severin.com as his only domain within cPanel.
 
In the "Email" text box, we enter "sev" without quotes. severin.com will stay in the drop-down selection.
 
Next, we have to assign a password for him. cPanel will gauge how strong the password is and show you whether it's poor, fair, strong, et cetera. A good password will have a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters such as punctuation. You can read more about selecting a strong password in the knowledgebase article, "Choosing A Strong Password."
 
You may set a quota in Megabytes for the email account, or you may allow it unlimited space, then click "Create Account." The new account will appear in the list below. You'll see how much space it's using (probably 0 MB if it's brand new,) be able to change the password or quota, and delete the account right from that list.
 
In the "More" drop-down menu at the far right, you can access the webmail for that account, or view the email client configuration settings tailor-made for it.
 
Spam Filtering:
 
Also in the Email section are two options for blocking spam: BoxTrapper and SpamAssassin. These are both covered in separate articles, but in a nutshell, we recommend leaving BoxTrapper disabled, and enabling SpamAssassin. The server will also block a good deal of spam for you automatically.
 
Files/FTP:
 
Next up on our nickel tour, interacting with your files. Some of you may be using website creation software, such as Sandvox or Dream Weaver, and those work wonderfully with cPanel. We have knowledgebase articles for setting up these clients under the FTP category of the knowledgebase.
 
To manage your files directly from cPanel, click the Files -> File Manager icon. This will open a dialogue box asking where you'd like to go. Select the "Home Directory" box, and also tick the "show hidden files" box at the bottom of the screen - this will allow you to see files that have a "." in front of them, such as the all-important .htaccess file. The File Manager will now open your home directory.
 
Your website content should all be placed into the folder called "public_html" - that is your Document Root, the place where the webserver will look for your website and all of its goodies. Click on the little globe icon next to public_html and it will open the directory in the right panel. If you haven't uploaded any content yet, you might just see a folder called "cgi-bin" and nothing else. Once you have uploaded content, though, you'll see all of your files here.
 
You can add new files and folders, change file and folder permissions, delete files and folders, upload, download, edit and view everything using the buttons at the top of the page. Again, if you're using website designer software, you may not need to do much of anything here. If you're confused about the File Manger, just let us know! We'll be happy to help you.
 
For now, though, let's continue with the overview tour and close the File Manager out.
 
Also in the Files area are your Backup Tools. Black Chicken Host recommends taking downloading regular backups of your account and downloading them to either your home computer or another location off our servers. In the event catastrophe strikes our courtesy backups, it's wonderful to have something to fall back upon. Please remember that while we do keep courtesy backups, they are not guaranteed.
 
Under the Backup icon, you have the ability to take a full or partial backup, as well as the ability to restore backups yourself. We are always happy to assist in this area, as well, if you have questions or are uncertain of anything at all.
 
The FTP Accounts icon is where you can add FTP users. FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol and is a method of uploading and downloading data. Your cPanel username is the primary FTP account, and does not need to have the domain name appended as part of the username. However, for added FTP users, they will need to use the username@domain.com format to log in via FTP. Thus, if we wanted to add Bob as an FTP user, we'd do it like this:
 
Login: bob
Password: (something strong! FTP accounts can be used for malicious purposes if compromised)
 
Then we need to set which directory Bob can access. If you want him to be able to access all of your directories, leave the "Directory" field blank - if cPanel puts something there automatically, just erase it. If you only want Bob to be able to access a particular folder, put the folder name into the text box. You'll need to have the full path there, and the /home/username part is already there for you. If we enter public_html in the text box, Bob will be able to access public_html and all of its subdirectories.
 
But let's say we only want Bob to be able to interact with one directory. When we enter the username, cPanel tries to anticipate where you might want Bob's stuff to live, so it puts public_html/bob in there for us. You can change that to anything you like but most people leave it as the default value for simplicity's sake.
 
Click "Create FTP Account," and Bob is all ready to go! When he connects, he'll need to enter the username of "bob@domain.com," though, and not just "bob" (remember, "domain.com" is just a stand-in for your actual domain name.) This is one of the most common sources of login failures we see.
 
Domains:
 
Moving along to the Domains section of the main cPanel page, there are a few items here most of our customers use frequently: Subdomains, Addon Domains and Parked Domains. We have articles explaining the differences between these terms under our DNS and Domains category of the knowledgebase. For now, just note the Domains area is where you will add these items in the future.
 
MySQL Databases:
 
Most software today needs to set up SQL databases in order to function. Some will set them up automatically, but others require you to set up the database and username manually. If that's the case, this is the area you're looking for.
 
MySQL is covered more extensively in our MySQL category within the knowledgebase. In brief, MySQL uses relational databases to store and access information. WordPress, Drupal, Zen Cart, OSCommerce - all of these need MySQL databases to function. cPanel handles MySQL databases and users in a very specific fashion - it will always prepend your cPanel username to each database and to each database user.
 
Thus, if your cPanel username is "franklin," and you want to create a database called "drupal," cPanel will create the database as "franklin_drupal." Likewise, if you create the SQL user "drpuser," it will appear within cPanel as "franklin_drpuser." When setting up your software's database configuration files, be sure to include the full database and usernames. Also, you will need to add the user to the database at the bottom of this page for the user to be able to interact with the database. For most purposes, when adding a user to a database, it is best to select the "All Privileges" box at the top of the screen.
 
Softaculous:
 
The last thing we'll touch upon here in the introductory tutorial is Softaculous - this is our one-click software installer. When you click on the Softaculous link located under 'Software' in your cPanel interface, it will take you to the installer page. Select which software you would like to install from the list along the left, and click install to fill in the appropriate details for the installation when prompted. Softaculous takes care of the rest of the work for you! When it's done, it will give you the link to the installation, as well as remind you of any appropriate adminstrative credentials you entered. It's a good idea to write these down.
 
When you're done, you can exit back to cPanel by clicking on the Control Panel icon at the top right.
 
Odds and Ends:
 
That about wraps up the introduction! A few things worth noting:
 
  • cPanel does not allow for multiple cPanel logins - there can only be one cPanel username per domain. This isn't something we set up, it's just the way cPanel is - alas!
  • If you enter your cPanel, email, or FTP username or password incorrectly too many times in a row, the server will automatically lock out your IP address to make sure someone isn't trying to hack your account. This is something we'll need to fix for you - please open a support ticket and let us know what your local IP address is (you can find it by going to whatismyip.com.)
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